VA Maryland Health Care System Busts Myths about Suicide

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Despite the common belief that the dark and cold winter months prompt an increase in suicides, the fact remains that suicide rates jump in the spring and early summer. While mental health professionals are not entirely certain why self-harm rises in the spring and summer, knowing the risk factors for suicide and the warning signs of those who are considering suicide can be vital.

Many myths about suicide inhibit people who want to help, from taking steps to do so,” says Zita Stonick, LCSW, suicide prevention coordinator at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Despite the common belief that the dark and cold winter months prompt an increase in suicides, the fact remains that suicide rates jump in the spring and early summer. While mental health professionals are not entirely certain why self-harm rises in the spring and summer, knowing the risk factors for suicide and the warning signs of those who are considering suicide can be vital. “Many myths about suicide inhibit people who want to help, from taking steps to do so,” says Zita Stonick, LCSW, suicide prevention coordinator at the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Baltimore VA Medical Center.

The reality is that two in three Veterans returning from conflict readjust reasonably well, but one in three report issues with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, or suffer the effects of pain and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that can lead to feeling desperate and hopeless. Some of the risks factors for suicide include depression, pain, grief, loss of a relationship, serious injury or long-term illness. Other risk factors include legal, financial, family, work or social problems. Having a family member who committed suicide also increases the risk of suicide in the surviving family members and friends. Below are some commonly held myths about suicide and the facts to address them, followed by a list of warning signs that all individuals can be mindful of when in contact with those expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Myths and Facts:

Myth: If someone talks about suicide prevention, it will increase a loved one’s desire to kill him/herself.
Fact: Suicide happens when people feel that they have no other options for ending pain or suffering. Suicide prevention discussions are aimed at giving hope and information about finding help.

Myth: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.
Fact: Most suicidal people are not psychotic or “insane.” They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed, or in despair, which can lead to mental confusion, repetitive thinking, rigid thinking, and tunnel vision. These symptoms can be alleviated with treatment.

Myth: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.
Fact: Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death and most waver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They want the pain or suffering to stop.

Myth: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
Fact: Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Please do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like, “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” and “I can’t see any way out,” or “I need a permanent sleep,”—no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

Myth: Once a person is suicidal, then that person is suicidal always.
Fact: Nine out of 10 people who are suicidal have depression. Depression can be treated, and in some cases, symptoms totally remit. Longstanding depression causes brain changes that need to be corrected with antidepressant medication. For severe or long-standing depression, the most effective help comes from both antidepressant medications and counseling together.

Myth: Asking someone if he or she is feeling suicidal may give them the idea to commit suicide.
Fact: Talking about suicide does not give a person the idea to kill him/herself. The opposite is true: bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly may be one of the most helpful things to do as it increases cognitive flexibility and helps the person see that other options exist to help lessen his/her mental pain.

Warning signs include:

  •     direct statements about wanting to die
  •     making preparations for death in the near future
  •     having weapons or other means accessible
  •     drinking excessively, especially when depressed
  •     greater levels of risk-taking
  •     giving away important personal possessions
  •     changes in personality
  •     withdrawal from family and friends
  •     excessive spending without financial resources
  •     taking leaves of absence for extended trips
  •     thinking about death frequently
  •     making a will
  •     buying a weapon
  •     stock piling potentially lethal medications
  •     making a practice run or making a suicide plan

How to help someone considering suicide:

  •     know the risk factors and warning signs
  •     talk openly with your loved one or friend
  •     show care and concern
  •     take your friend or loved one seriously
  •     never underestimate the power of understanding and support
  •     obtain professional help
  •     call an ambulance or law enforcement personnel in an emergency and transport your friend or loved one to a hospital
  •     do not overlook the signs of suicide
  •     do not sound shocked
  •     do not promise anything you can’t guarantee
  •     do not argue with the person
  •     do not argue about moral issues or communicate that the person should be ashamed of how he/she feels
  •     do not leave the person alone
  •     do not agree to keep the suicide threat a secret
  •     do not remain the only person providing help

Convince your suicidal loved one to get help by calling:

  •     the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK, for Veterans
  •     a local chaplain
  •     the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-SUICIDE, for non-Veterans
  •     military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647
  •     a family doctor
  •     the closest emergency room
  •     911

Reporter Note: Suicide Prevention Coordinator Zita Stonick is available for interviews. To arrange interview times, call Rosalia Scalia, public affairs specialist, at 410.605.7464 or via email at rosalia(dot)scalia(at)va(dot)gov.

The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at two medical centers, one rehabilitation & extended care center and six outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future copayments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit http://www.maryland.va.gov.

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Rosalia Scalia
Veterans Health Administration
410-605-7464
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